I’ll Chase As Many Waterfalls As I Like

The journey from Santa Catalina to Boquete is a four bus, eight hour monster but public transport in Panama just works. You only have to show up. Guys will ask you where you’re going and point you in the right direction or put you on the right bus. They mostly run quite frequently with one or two notable exceptions but generally it’s a well oiled machine that’ll take you effortlessly across the country and before you know it you’ve lost several hours of your life you can never get back but you’re exactly where you need to be at a very reasonable hour.

Boquete is a bit wet but also a bit sunny so we saw a couple of perfect rainbows.

So Boquete then. Another town in the hills surrounded by various places to abuse your poor legs via the medium of trails, many of which include waterfalls. This has got a big town vibe to it though unlike El Valle or Santa Fe, you feel like shit goes on here. There’s a good medical clinic too if you, y’know, accidentally buggered your ear up whilst diving. She couldn’t see past the swelling in my ear so she doesn’t know if the drum is perforated or not so I’m on the mighty Amoxicillin plus some manner of antihistamine along with the usual over the counter painkillers. So that’s where we are with that. Once the swelling goes down I’ll go in again and see if there’s a gaping hole where my eardrum should be or not.

Here we go then.

Straight into it then, no fucking about. A staff member at the hostel told us that the Lost Waterfalls and the Pipeline Trail could be done on the same day so without stopping to consider if any of our body parts were up for this we were like, challenge accepted, and off we fucked to catch a bus to the trailhead. Guys, we were fucking knackered afterwards and we probably only did about ten to twelve kilometres in total. I mean, there were hills. So many hills. But still, probably shouldn’t be feeling like my brain is shutting down.

Well this bridge doesn’t look like it has “holding the considerable weight of tourists” at the top of its To Do list.

We got off the bus at the Lost Waterfalls trail, paid the driver and started the slog up the hill. This wasn’t even the trail, by the way, this was the hill to the entrance of the trail. The weather was questionable, we were being misted by a very light drizzle, almost as if the neighbours hadn’t switched the sprinkler off and the wind had picked up. It wasn’t cold though and given the fact we were panting our way up a brutal incline it was actually nice and refreshing.

We got to the wooden shack that serves as the ticket office, parted with the dollars, then continued on our way to the first waterfall. It’s not bad, it’s uphill obviously but it’s not a terrible trail even though it was wet and muddy. The misty drizzle had been upgraded to a light drizzle and other walkers had kitted up in waterproofs but I’d just sweat to death if I started layering crisp packets on. Eventually we came to the first waterfall, and I do kind of like that they haven’t bothered giving them fancy names.

May I introduce you to 1st Waterfall. After you’ve walked uphill all that way you have to negotiate a downhill made of floor soup and treachery to a viewing platform but it’s worth it. It thunders over the edge onto the rocks below. You wouldn’t want to get under it unless you were in the market for a good braining. It’s quite spectacular.

1st waterfall.

We enjoyed it for a while then clambered back up to the trail towards the 2nd Waterfall. This section is probably the easiest with just the right amounts of up, down and flat. It was still muddy as fuck and the drizzle was still quite happily drenching us but it was a nice trail where you pick your way over rocks and learn to accept the fact you’re going to completely submerge at least one foot in a quagmire and this is just your life now.

2nd waterfall. You can get closer than this and it will drench you.

You can get closer to the second waterfall, you could probably even go in if you fancied it but again, the power of it would probably cause bruising. We were getting soaked from the cloud we were walking in and from the waterfall belting down and kicking up spray. We waited patiently for everyone to get their photos so we could take our turn to get ours and headed to the 3rd Waterfall, and oh my gosh this section can just fuck off quite frankly.

And here’s another photo of Tarrant squelching her way through wet jungle.

It was quite steep in the way that Jack the Ripper was quite stabby. They’d seen fit to install knotted ropes to help you up and down but the ropes, whilst they were attached to solid objects, were on the floor so you can imagine the state of them in the current weather conditions. I gingerly fished a rope out of the mud and tried to convince my brain that no one ever died because they got a bit of mud on their hands. It’s not that I care about being dirty, I give no fucks about that, I just don’t like things on my palms. It makes my brain itch. Ugh. Okay, fine, let’s get on with this.

You can’t really tell what’s going on here if you’ve not seen the horror with your own eyes. The camera is pointing downhill, you can see a person at the bottom there. That blue rope is all that stood between me and a nervous breakdown.

I’m not going to lie, I was worried about getting down with the trail consisting predominantly of mud and with me being about as sure footed as a drunk giraffe on rollerskates. The scrambly bit wasn’t that long in the end and we were presented with a good, old fashioned normal hill for much of the rest of the way. 3rd Waterfall is more of the same, a sheer force of nature hurling itself over a cliff, surrounded by ferns and general green lushness. I do feel like Mother Nature has gone all out with the framing for these waterfalls, I feel like she really cares about Instagram.

3rd waterfall.

The cloud we were walking in had turned really quite aggressive by this point and the drizzle could almost be considered a light rain and we now had to get down a fucking mud slide which I’d built up in my head to basically be a complete death trap. It actually turned out to be okay, the ropes really helped. People barging past on the way up really didn’t help, like, just fucking wait a minute, buddy. I’ll be a lot quicker if you get out of my bloody way. We plodded all the way down, completely forgot to sign out so hopefully they won’t be sending out a search party for us, then walked the easy 1.8 kilometres to the trailhead for the Pipeline Trail.

The weather cleared up then.

We got a good look at the people finishing the trail and there wasn’t a speck of dirt on them. I glanced down at my mud-caked shoes and legs. Righto. I can’t believe these two trails are so close together. The sun was trying really hard to come out and at least it wasn’t raining here. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people hiking up the Lost Waterfalls trail as we were heading down were still shrouded in mist and wetness, questioning all of their life choices.

In case you were questioning the volcanic credentials of the area.

We signed in for the Pipeline trail, paid our money then headed up the lovely, dry trail. This one is much easier. I mean, it’s uphill but it’s a nice incline, nothing to upset your calf muscles. We kept our eyes peeled for the resplendent quetzal, a pretty, green bird with a long tail, but we didn’t see any. I think we heard the elusive little buggers but considering they’re bright fucking green with a bright red chest they’re very difficult to spot. I can feel this becoming another toucan situation where we eventually decide they’re probably a myth anyway.

Another key point on this trail is the 1000 year old tree which is utterly gnarled and badass. There’s apparently an even older tree which has survived two eruptions from Volcán Baru but they’ve not signposted that bad boy. Maybe it’s not as pretty. Should probably mention the pipeline that the trail is named for, it supplies most of the water for the area so the fact that it had broken and was gushing water into the abyss was probably cause for concern. A couple were telling the lady in the ticket office about it as we were starting our walk and they were getting it fixed as we were on the way back down.

Cenizo Ulmus Mexicana. Really fucking old. There’s a human to the left for scale.

Anyway. The trail does start getting a bit steep and rocky after the extra impressive tree, all those things your ankles adore. It eventually terminates at the Hidden Waterfall which is very tall and by the time the water hits the rocks below it’d still give you a nice massage but it had spread out and dispersed a lot. We chilled for a while and shovelled some Skittles into our chops before heading back down.

The Hidden Waterfall.

So you’re in a cloud forest around these parts and there’s a sign up insisting that this is a quetzal habitat but could we see one? Could we fuck as like. We even sat down in silence, staring intently into the trees, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse, but nothing. Obviously I know that seeing wildlife is a privilege but come on, you little green fucker. Show yourself! Still nothing. Fine. We should probably finish getting down this hill then and getting a bus home. What a lovely trail it is though, I’m really glad we did the vertical mud slide first before finishing on this enjoyable stroll. Not sure of our plans for tomorrow, we’d seen a sign for the Quetzal Trail but apparently that’s been closed since Covid. Maybe we’ll do another hike. Maybe we’ll do fuck all. We are, after all, on our holidays.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Boquete, Chiriquí, Panama

Stayed at: La Casa de Doña Cata, Boquete

La Casa De Doña Cata. No curtains or personal plug sockets or anything fancy but the beds are comfy. There are no lockers though and you’re only given a sheet so it does get cold at night. Showers are warm which is nice after a day of hiking. You’re given pancake mix for breakfast and you can make as many as you want, and there’s free coffee all day. It’s noisy, however, with the common area being right by the dorm and people staying up late drinking. Great location in town though.

Useful shit to know…

How To Get From Santa Catalina To Boquete By Bus

  • We took the 7am bus from Santa Catalina.
  • It leaves from the corner of Calle Principal and Vía El Estero, around 7.634036, -81.258441.
  • It took an hour and 45 minutes and cost US$4.65 each.
  • Interestingly it cost US$5 coming the other way.
  • You’ll be dropped at the terminal in Sona. Buses to Santiago start about 250 metres north of here but you can just wait out the front of the terminal and flag one down.
  • Sona to Santiago took around an hour and I think it cost US$2.10 each. I didn’t check my change properly but it was about that. There was definitely change from a fiver for two people. It actually cost US$2.50 going the other way.
  • You’ll be dropped in front of the terminal in Santiago.
  • Walk through to where the platforms are, turn right and head all the way around to the north-western corner of the terminal.
  • You’ll see signs for buses to David. I believe they leave every half hour. The bus was there but we waited about 20 minutes for it to leave.
  • It took just under three hours and cost US$9 each.
  • We were dropped at the terminal then just had to walk through to the platforms and turn right to find the bus to Boquete.
  • It took an hour and 15 minutes and cost US$2 each.
  • Total cost: US$17.75
  • Total time: 8 hours and 15 minutes including waiting time between buses.
  • To get to the trails mentioned in this post just find the buses at the northern end of Avenida Belisario Porras.
  • Coordinates are 8.777493, -82.432144.
  • Someone will likely approach you and ask you where you’re going but if not you can just tell them the name of the trail you want and you’ll be put on the right bus.
  • It cost US2.50 each one way to the Lost Waterfalls trailhead.
  • The trailhead for the Pipeline Trail is only a couple of kilometres before the Lost Waterfall Trail so it probably costs about the same by bus.
  • The Lost Waterfall Trail costs US$10 each to get in.
  • The Pipeline Trail costs US$5 each.
  • You have to sign in and out of both these trails.
  • If you need to see a doctor in Boquete I can recommend Clínica Especializada Boquete. I saw both Dr Shannon (native English speaker) and Dr Gomez (fluent in English) and they were both great.
  • They’re on Av. A Este, coordinates 8.77803, -82.43179.

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